Search form

Tropic Thunder's Visual Effects Play Up The Laughs

Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. lead an ensemble cast in DreamWorks Pictures' TROPIC THUNDER, an action comedy about a group of self-absorbed actors who set out to make the biggest war film ever. After ballooning costs (and the out of control egos of the pampered cast) threaten to shut down the movie, the frustrated director refuses to stop shooting, leading his cast deep into the jungles of Southeast Asia for "increased realism," where they inadvertently encounter real bad guys. CIS Visual Effects Group's Vancouver, London and Hollywood facilities were called upon to support the action of this hilarious 'movie within a movie.'

"We first got involved while Ben was still shooting in Kauai," said CIS Vancouver's VFX Supervisor Mark Breakspear. "Our team handled the war scenes which necessitated generating everything from CG planes and helicopters and digital doubles to exploding debris and crashing helicopters, matte paintings and set extensions of jungle camps, to bullet hits, hand grenades and flame throwers. The work was quite challenging, especially as we knew there are subtle differences in creating visual effects for comedies than for other films."

CIS Vancouver handled the most complex of the visual effects work in TROPIC THUNDER, which was released on August 13. Originally the sole vendor, the facility concentrated on the complicated war scenes, the mistaken explosion of a cocaine factory, the Flaming Dragon Compound sequence and the opening scenario -- the Hot Landing Zone -- which is a fake landing area made for the fake "movie." They also completed 20 additional shots for the movie's DVD release.

Also contributing to TROPIC THUNDER, CIS Hollywood handled the production of the Scorcher sequence, a 90-second entirely-CG spoof trailer that explains Ben Stiller's character within the movie. Scorcher was a truly collaborative process with CIS Vancouver creating the original previz and CIS Hollywood producing the final sequence with CIS London's collaboration.

VFX Supervisor, Bryan Hirota, who oversaw CIS Hollywood's work, added, "The Scorcher was a long and intricate CG sequence, but the team had fun with it despite the challenges."

Michael Fink served as the film's overall vfx supervisor. "After the complexity of the fantastical imagery in my last project -- THE GOLDEN COMPASS -- I thought TROPIC THUNDER would be a breath of fresh air," remembered Fink. "But as I got involved, I discovered this was just as challenging a visual effects project as that had been. The only difference being that if we did a good job, no one would ever notice. This was my first out and out real comedy and I really enjoyed it. The teams at the CIS facilities handled some of the most challenging work, and thoroughly contributed to the successful look of the movie."